By Gwen Sisson
Overall, Wanda Thomas said she feels The Old Stone Station has been a success, but it is still growing and evolving.
“It’s still in the building process, however, in both merchandise and in building my customer base,” Thomas said. “I still get a kick out of the expression on people’s faces when they enter the store for the first time and say, ‘I had no idea you had all this!’ Once they visit the store, they usually come back as a regular customer. I try to have something for everyone, thus, my store’s motto is ‘everything you love.’”
Thomas has always loved antiques, and it has always been a dream of hers to open her own shop. It started years ago when her sister, Dorothy Swingle of Eupora, sold antique furniture. She would often travel with her sister to auctions during those years and while sitting with her as she would bid, I experienced a contagious excitement for the auctions.
“I’ve had an interest and hankering for buying and selling antique furniture myself,” Thomas said. “Attending antique auctions and getting caught up in the bidding gets into your bloodstream and creates an excitement that cannot be matched. The problem has been for me, however, I usually buy items that I love personally and find myself hating to part with them.”
Upon retiring in June 2010 from a long teaching career, Thomas decided to follow through with that dream of moving back home to Webster County and owning a little antique shop. The Old Stone Station & Antique Gallery opened five months later in November 2010 and has turned out to be quite a bit more than just a little antique shop.
“The store, however, is an ongoing process of all the things I love,” Thomas said. “My husband Stephen is not as enthused over retail as I’d like for him to be, but he does seem to enjoy the auctions as well as attending the markets. I often wonder when am I ever really going to retire…and then…I just put it in the back of my mind as I’m too busy enjoying buying and selling all the things I love.”
Having the store provides Thomas the opportunity to be in the public which allows her to meet and talk with many people in the community. Thomas was born and raised in Webster County in the Mathiston community and loves all of the Southern “connections” she makes with her local customers to friends and family from her past.
“Many are people I haven’t seen for years who knew my parents or family or knew me when I was growing up,” Thomas said. “I enjoy the conversations which lead us to reminisce about the past. I enjoy the interaction with people. I strive to treat all of my customers with fairness and respect regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, or religion. I feel it’s important for customers to feel they are welcome when they enter my store.”
After retiring from teaching at Mississippi Delta Community College in June 30, 2010, she purchased the old stone building, originally a Texaco service station, from Thurman Latham and opened her store a few months later on November 6, a day of Christmas Open House in downtown Eupora.
“I hardly knew what I was doing,” Thomas said, “and I was nowhere near ready to open, but my goal was to open the day of Christmas Open House.”
Thomas recalled that the store was busy non-stop that day as everyone was anxious to see the result of the transformation of the old Texaco service station into a gift and antique store.
“I couldn’t have made it that day,” Thomas added, “without the help of my sisters, Carolyn and Dorothy.”
The Old Stone Station is located on the south side of Highway 182 and near the intersection of Dunn Street. When it was built in the early 1930’s, it was across the street from what was Skinny’s Café. The original owner of the building was Mr. Thurman Latham, Sr.
According to a local newspaper article at the time, the two-story stone service station was described as “having beautiful architecture in an old English design and constructed of native rock and brick.” It was said to have been “among the best of north Mississippi’s motor stations.”
The stone or native rock came from Tishomingo County. The masonry was supervised by T.E. Lindsey of Jackson, Tenn. Bryan McCain, a local contractor at the time, was in charge of the other construction on the service station.
“Wanda is a great asset to Eupora,” said Eupora Mayor Dan Burchfield. “With her creativity to turn an old unused service station into one of the nicest gift and antique shops in the region, she brings many people to Eupora that would not have stopped otherwise.”
Her best advice?
“First, choose something you love and then, do your homework,” Thomas said. “Spend some time talking to owners of other small businesses, and ideally those in other towns with stores similar to what you’re interest in opening. There is so much to consider in addition to the expenses, and these are things on which other small business owners could offer advice. And finally, take pride and ownership in your business once it’s established; be patient and be willing to put your profits back into your business for a few years to build your business.”